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Knabel strives to improve Newton

Published: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 11:59 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 12:52 p.m. CDT

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When Newton City Administrator Bob Knabel was hired last year, he had some challenges ahead of him. He entered a city in recovery from the Maytag departure and ha since worked to help Newton development.

The Comprehensive Plan has been a prime directive for the city. The goals of the plan are to: grow Newton’s population, with a focus on young families; increase job opportunities; improve the city’s curb appeal; and fill vacant buildings and increase local shopping options.

“The Comprehensive Plan was a big deal, and we now have to move to implement it,” Knabel said. “Now we are moving to implementation, and that’s again part of the budget discussion of the community betterment plan, or the use of the Whirlpool fund or the Emergency Levy.”

Another major project was updating the homes in the city by providing financial assistance payments for prohibited sanitary sewer discharge removal work.

“We have almost $3 million in capital improvements planned for next year which probably nobody, unless they go to the landfill, is going to see,” Knabel said. “And yet it’s critical to what we do as an organization for the residents — finding a place for the trash and flushing the toilet. That is kind of basic, and yet they are big capital expenditures that they won’t see.”

One of the major changes in city government was the decision to consolidate departments. This allowed for other departments to use services that would otherwise be unavailable or difficult to obtain.

“As a result of the 90-day report that we gave the council, some of the items that we identified in that — we wanted to make some changes in the area of finance department; in the area of our community development, economic development,” Knabel said. “As a result of that, we went through some reorganization and put together those two, and now we have a Department of Finance and Development, and we have the Department of Planning and Zoning — a little more targeted and focused on some of the specific areas of need.”

Another consolidation benefit was the ability for combined departments to share resources. The reasoning behind this was to maximize their workforce to its true potential and flexibility.

It also helped with snow removal. The move allowed for departments to use resources that would otherwise not be available or be difficult to come by, but Newton has only experienced one major winter storm since the changes went into effect.

The city learned a lot from the previous storm and is working hard to make sure the roads are taken care of.

There is one area that Newton thrives — parks.

“That’s kind of a special thing for Newton,” Knabel said. “That makes Newton attractive, and it gives the residents a sense of pride in the parks system, in Maytag park and the pool and Woodland park — we have a lot of good facilities there. That whole parks system provides a niche to the community that says to others, ‘We have something special here.’ The park system is a way of expressing that.”

“These facilities are important,” Knabel continued. “They need to be safe, they need to be pleasing for the community to use. One of the things that I see us doing is looking at the playground equipment and see what needs to be updated and upgraded.”

The city has seen success in past park projects like the addition of disc golf course, but there is one area that will be addressed this year — nuisance enforcement.

“We started last August saying, ‘This is a high priority for us, and we need to do something about it,” Knabel said. “We not only kicked up the number of our enforcement contacts, but we also begun to look at things that we can do to make the whole thing work better.”

Ordinance changes will be brought up to the council during future meetings to help strengthen the nuisance problems.

Staff writer Matthew Shepard may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at mshepard@newtondailynews.com.

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